Chicken paws have become a lucrative commodity in the industry with millions in exports annually. In addition, they serve as an indicator of animal welfare during audits and can be a direct indicator of bird performance. Footpad dermatitis (FPD), the ulcerated lesions that can form on the pad of the paw, has the power to disrupt their potential. For the sake of welfare, profitability and performance, it’s important to understand how these three factors can support or challenge paw health.
1. Litter Moisture
High litter moisture content has been shown to be a sole contributing factor to the development of FPD, especially before two weeks and as early as 3-5 days of age, with levels greater than 30% being very detrimental. Focus on litter and moisture management year-round to help avoid FPD. Even decaked and windrowed litter can cause severe burns if excess moisture is present.
2. Bedding material and depth
The role of bedding material is to absorb and then allow for evaporation of moisture. The challenge lies in having adequate amounts of an effective substrate to accomplish those goals, which can be influenced by the material’s particle size, moisture content and build up, rate of caking, and other characteristics. Too often, new bedding is placed at inadequate depths.
Research has shown a direct correlation between litter depth and FPD with paw scores improving as litter depth increased (Bilgili et al 2009). Increased litter depth leads to decreased moisture levels and improved paw quality, which positively impacts performance and bird health (Shepard et al 2017).
Nutrition can impact the development of FPD in various ways, including affecting feces consistency and thus litter quality. For example, excess sodium can increase water intake thereby increasing litter moisture. One study that examined diets with equal protein:energy ratio with either low- or high-density levels showed broilers raised on the low-density diet had significantly fewer FPD cases than the high-density fed birds (de Jong et all 2015).
Want more information on keeping paws healthy and profitable? Contact your Jones-Hamilton rep today.